Peder D4

Discussion of politics and other odious things

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Conservative case for Marriage

I’d like to start with the strongest conservative argument against GM. I want to go in depth a bit here because I think it’s an important one. It goes to the heart of what marriage is, what it has been and what it means to society in general. If you don’t understand the argument against GM, please read this all the way through.
R1. Marriage is one of the bedrock foundations of Western Civilization. For millennia (certainly since Roman times) it’s been seen as a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman. That commitment provided security and stability to society. Especially for children. In the crudest terms it was a tradeoff of access to sex in exchange for security of paternal protection. Men were kept from spreading their seed far and wide and in return women were provided with financial support and an enhanced place in society. Let me emphasize that those are only the crudest terms. There is no reason to believe that the lowest peasants didn’t usually marry for love. The strength of marriage is that it provided the strongest framework for society. The two lovers were joined together as they desired and many benefits ensued.
Yes, this pattern wasn’t followed by every single couple. Husbands and wives slept around. Divorce has been around for many centuries. But adultery and divorce were exceptions to the rule. The majority of couples were committed to each other. Perhaps more importantly, the concepts of lifelong fidelity were widely understood. That was the goal that couples understood they should shoot for.
And the two concepts are important. Fidelity made for a stronger bond between husband and wife. It cut down on the poison of jealousy and ensured against bastardy. It created mutual respect. Lifelong commitment created security, both emotional and financial. A child that was born into a marriage had the security of a family. And that family became a tight knot, and made the fabric of society stronger.
All that changed with the rise of divorce and free love. The idea changed from a tried and true pattern to one of designer choices. Want multiple partners? Go ahead. Some very few could manage. Many more were torn apart by jealousy. And if your designer choice didn’t work out, just crumple it up and throw it out. For the best of reasons, personal freedom and personal happiness, a very old tradition was thrown out.
The widely quoted statistic about 50% of marriages ending in divorce is misleading but useful. The attitude about marriage has changed. Couples go into marriage thinking that if it doesn’t work out this time, they’ll just try again. The idea of a starter marriage is gaining traction. The reasons for getting divorced are smaller and smaller.
Children worry that just about any argument can lead to divorce. Their stability is gone. The FP Gal tells me that consistency and stability are two of the most important things for a child in school. That must be true in other parts of their lives. And who can blame them for worrying? Is their any child in school that hasn’t gone through divorce or had close friends go through it? How permanent can they expect it to be? Where is their bedrock?
And who can blame the divorcees in this climate? How many unhappy husbands and wives are being told to find a way to make it work? How many are told to throw ‘em back and look for a different fish? If the expectation for marriage is lifelong, it’s easier to take the longer view. If a twenty year marriage becomes seen as freakishly impressive, it’s easier to look for the escape hatch.
The same is true for adultery, too. A century ago an adulterer was seen as deeply dishonoring a marriage. They became something of an outcast. Today it’s seen as the norm. Which social climate makes it easier to ‘jump the fence’?
And we can see the outcomes from this. This editorial from the WaPo talks about the current state of marriage in the black community. This is pretty breathtaking (but read the whole thing):

The marriage rate for African Americans has been dropping since the 1960s, and today, we have the lowest marriage rate of any racial group in the United States. In 2001, according to the U.S. Census, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women in America had never been married, in contrast to 27.4 percent and 20.7 percent respectively for whites. African American women are the least likely in our society to marry. In the period between 1970 and 2001, the overall marriage rate in the United States declined by 17 percent; but for blacks, it fell by 34 percent. Such statistics have caused Howard University relationship therapist Audrey Chapman to point out that African Americans are the most uncoupled people in the country.

And nothing suggests that this trend is going to reverse itself anytime soon. The idea of marriage is in decline. Woe to the future.
There is a third aspect of marriage that I didn’t include above, the aspect of gender. The balance of having a mother and a father has been very important in raising children. Having both male and female perspectives gives boys and girls role models for how to live. A father, for instance, can teach a young boy how to behave towards women and also teach a girl what kind of husband she should look for. And the positives that a mother brings to her children are very obvious. Single parent children are more likely to commit suicide and crime.
As I said above, for the best of reasons this age long tradition was altered. The outcome has been anything but good. If you could go back in time 50 years and predict the things that are happening now, you’d be thrown out of the debate for being an alarmist. Ease divorce laws a notch and wind up with generations of screwed up kids? Sounds pretty extremist doesn’t it? Well, that’s what’s happened.
So what about GM? We’ve already tinkered with a system that worked very well for millennia and it hasn’t worked out well. Should we make another radical shift? Are we sacrificing marriage for noble sounding reasons? Even if it’ll probably be ok, are we being hasty? And shouldn’t the burden of proof be on those who would make the changes? This is the heart of the conservative argument against it.



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